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Loscil: Triple Point

James Beaudreau


Triple Point

Label: Kranky

Using the laws of thermodynamics as the underpinnings for a concept album of electronic beat music is a potentially treacherous proposition. Each of the vignettes in Loscil's Triple Point are titled after elegant scientific building blocks, as in "Hydrogen", the simplest of elements; or "Ampere", a unit of electric current. The subject could be dynamic, but Loscil chooses to illustrate points of stasis, as epitomized by the "Triple Point" of the title, which describes matter in a state of equilibrium between its three stages (solid, liquid, gas). If it were his goal to create sonic diagrams and amplifications of the individual titles, Triple Point would be something of a conceptual failure. But the titles are not programmatic -- they merely delineate different views of the same state of equilibrium. And the record has an unusually unified and focused sound.

In human form Loscil is known as Scott Morgan, who, instead of creating far-out electronic projects, is the drummer for Vancouver-based rock band Destroyer. It takes a musician of some breadth to go from the most physical of instruments to the clinical electronic work of Triple Point, which falls on the cool and cerebral side of a generally abstract form of music. At its best, the record can be like a luminous and pulsating sphere of energy. But at its worst, it can be texturally ugly, or worse, dull.

The experience of listening to a track on Triple Point is like looking at a painting. It is all revealed in an instant, and doesn't change, except for how the point of your attention alters your experience of it. Morgan's materials are like large blocks of color, and there are few of them within a single track. The pieces have one or two "chords" per song -- they're more like masses of harmonic information -- that either cycle back and forth at a static intensity, or that surge in and out like vacuum tubes in a Frankenstein movie. This very minimal movement serves as both the background and foreground of the music -- though blips and muted pops of percussion shuttle across the stereo spectrum, the album curiously avoids all sense of dimensional depth. It's tight and claustrophobic. Almost, interestingly, hot.

As for melodic material, there isn't much. There are occasionally suspended triangles of notes in a register removed from the ominous shapes, but they don't really qualify as melodies. On the opposite end of the frequency spectrum, Morgan drops in some deliciously low dubby bass lines. The beats are slow, plodding, and unchanging -- subtle in terms of their share of the overall sonic picture, but forceful nonetheless. To his credit, in this untypical release the lack of melody and beat variation makes the album a success. It's the grand shapes that define Triple Point, and their hovering presence, while unattractive up close, from a distance make for curious and unsettling viewing, like seeing alien forms massing on the horizon.

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